Thai NGOs short-sighted because of single-issue politics

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently a number of NGOs in Thailand, including Amnesty International and many local groups, have been announcing “demands” on the military junta. One would have expected that the number one demand would be for the junta to resign and make way for free and fair elections immediately. The Second demand ought to have been the immediate release of all political prisoners. Not so, these NGOs seem to think they can work with the junta and spend time lobbying them like they were a normal and legitimate government. Of course, in the past some of the NGO activists even went as far as to support the overthrow of democratically elected Thai governments.

The first group of NGOs “demanded” that the junta and private businesses respect human rights according to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. There was no mention of trade unions or trade union rights among the list of demands.

The second group of NGOs “demanded” that the unelected junta “reform” the police. This is at a time when the police are controlled by military units who act as policemen in local areas and force their way into people’s homes.

It is difficult to know whether to laugh or to cry at such naïve calls from these NGOs!!

The present ruling military junta shot its way to power by murdering pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010, encouraging the judiciary to undermine elected governments and allowing anti-democratic mobs to wreck elections. After taking power, Prayut’s junta has continually detained those who oppose the dictatorship, forcing them to attend “attitude changing sessions” in military camps. More and more people have been jailed under the notorious lèse-majesté law, often after appearing in military courts. Academic seminars and political meetings have been banned or forcibly shut down. Social media and the internet are constantly monitored and the junta has attempted to censor posts and video clips. The junta’s servants have drawn up a new constitution with the specific aim of installing a system of Guided Democracy under the control of the military. And yet there are people who seem to believe that the bunch of thugs now ruling Thailand will somehow respect human rights and reform the police?!

And why should the junta listen to these “demands” by people who cannot or will not build mass social movements? What bargaining power do the NGOs have?

In order to believe the NGO fairy-stories you have to be extremely short-sighted about politics, even to the point of closing your eyes to the real world. This mind-set is helped by a single-issue obsession and a rejection of political and economic theories. [See http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh ]

Another current issue is that the present junta is trying to destroy the universal health care system which was brought in under the first Taksin government. High up on their agenda is an attempt to bring in “co-payments” for health treatment which is currently free. It is good to see that NGO health activists and their supporters have been on the streets opposing this. It is a credit to these groups that they have mobilised around this issue.

Yet, even these NGO activist suffer from single-issue politics and the rejection of theory. One of their demands is to maintain the purchaser-provider split, in other words they support the internal market in health care. The internal market has been helping to wreck the health service in Britain by allowing privatisation and funding cuts and the destruction of family doctor services in local communities. It is also extremely wasteful, leading to the employment of thousands of accountants and administrative staff instead of employing more clinical staff. That is why the British Labour Party is talking about abolishing the internal market which was brought in under Margaret Thatcher.

One particular Thai NGO leader has even called for the private sector to play an important role in health care! This is just aping the right-wing ideology of the neo-liberals throughout the world.

The internal market in health is the opposite to a universal health care system which prioritises the needs of all citizens irrespective of wealth. Profit-seeking by private companies should never have a place in the provision of health care.

The health NGO activists also see themselves as “representatives of the people” without having ever stood for elections. They distrust representative democracy. Yet the real democratisation of health care, with elected representative taking part in the management of local hospitals and health budgets would be a significant step forward in Thailand. Of course, none of this could be achieved under a military junta.

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